Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Instructions for Correct Assembly/ Bat out of Hell

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Instructions for Correct Assembly/ Bat out of Hell

Article excerpt

'Hunt the Flop', the Royal Court's bizarre quest for dud plays, has found a candidate for this year's overall prize. Instructions for Correct Assembly by Thomas Eccleshare is a family satire set in the near future. Plot: suburban parents replace their missing son with a computerised cyborg which malfunctions. That's it. Were this a pitch for a TV sketch show the producer would say, 'OK, but then what?' The answer here is virtually nothing.

Early on, the cyborg makes embarrassing political statements and expresses support for Brexit. The parents hastily silence him using a hand-held device that returns him to their dead-safe Guardianista outlook. This gag is extended later when the cyborg does the 'drunken uncle' routine at a party and makes sexist overtures to two women. These patchy comic efforts are the play's only highlights. The meandering script has an error that any competent producer ought to spot: a lack of conflict between the parents. One should be keener than the other on the experimental cyborg. But without that dynamic the play becomes a fallow heap of biscuit-mix banalities. Confusingly, the production features flashback scenes that involve the son before he disappeared. But the son and the cyborg are played by the same actor, with no change of costume, and it's unclear that these scenes belong to the past. It took me an hour to realise that the play was using two timescales in parallel, and yet, weirdly enough, this discovery added no depth or interest whatsoever.

Two fine actors are squandered here. Mark Bonnar, adept at playing middle-class nuisances, brings some welcome touches of physical wit to the show. Opposite him is Jane Horrocks, one of the best comediennes in the business. How did they end up in 'Hunt the Flop'? Their agents should try harderto find them work that exhibits their talents to best advantage. That may mean declining future offers from the Royal Court, which was once the proud champion of new writing and has now become its coffin.

Loaf-mania hits the Dominion. The musical Bat out of Hell is the work of Jim Steinman who composed Meat Loaf's greatest hits. He appends his favourites to a romantic storyline set in a dystopian city of the future. Strat is the chief of the underground rebels and he falls in love with Raven, a pampered heiress, whose tantrum-prone dad, Falco, wants to kick the squatters out of their subterranean ghetto and convert the tunnels into chic apartments for yuppies who don't mind living below sea level. …

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